Progressive federalism can serve the interests of working people across Britain — a Yes vote will be a blow both sides of the border, says TOM MORRISON
THE Scottish independence referendum takes place in 16 weeks. Currently the polls are very close. If there is a Yes vote, Scotland will separate in less than two years’ time, March 2016. At this point Scottish MPs will leave Westminster.
And if a Labour government is elected in 2015, it is likely to fall: only one of the 59 Scottish MPs is currently a Tory — 44 are Labour.
Communists in Scotland do not support independence on these terms. Since the 1930s the demand of Communists has been for progressive federalism, a demand also backed in the 1970s by the STUC and Scottish labour movement.
What does “progressive” mean? It is federalism that is not simply a constitutional fix but one which facilitates the struggle for progressive social change across the nations of Britain — which enables a redistribution of wealth and power.
Under progressive federalism the federal government at British level would control overall economic policy and be constitutionally required to redistribute income geographically in proportion to social need.
Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and, if supported locally, in the regions of England, would have the power to take utilities into public control, to intervene industrially to sustain employment and to increase the power of working people over the resources of their country.
This was the vision of the Scottish Assembly of 1972: for a “workers parliament,” one whose actions would help lift struggle elsewhere, to unite not divide.
The “independence” offered by the SNP government’s White Paper is very different and, Communists argue, a trap for working people. It will weaken and not strengthen their position against that of big business and the banks.
The White Paper’s recipe for economic growth is to lower corporation tax. It seeks to offer stability for Scotland’s massive financial sector by remaining in the sterling area and to guarantee the rights of external big business, which owns over 80 per cent of Scottish manufacturing industry, by seeking membership of the EU.
Without a central bank or its own currency, Scotland’s budget would still be set by Westminster — and a Westminster run by Tories. Austerity would continue. And it would be policed by the EU.
The EU’s 2012 Stability Treaty, which Scotland would have to incorporate into its written constitution, specifies that annual deficits must not exceed 0.5 per cent and, if long-term borrowing or national debt exceeds 60 per cent of GDP, it must be brought down by 5 per cent a year. Scotland’s debt is currently calculated as at least 85 per cent of GDP.
Hence SNP independence would make austerity cuts even worse. As for public ownership or “state aid” for industry, forget it. It’s not allowed under EU rules.
Surprisingly, some sections of the left have committed themselves to the Yes campaign: the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, Solidarity, the International Socialist Group, the Socialist Party in Scotland and even some in the Labour Party are calling for a Yes vote, many as part of the Radical Independence Coalition (RIC).
There are two reasons. First, the SNP has very cleverly played its commitment to a constitutional convention to be held immediately after the first elections for a Scottish Parliament in 2016. This will have the freedom to review all constitutional options for an independent Scotland. As members of Radical Independence say, “everything will be up for grabs.”
Except it won’t.
Slightly less prominently the SNP proposals note that the convention’s composition will have to reflect the democratic will of the Scottish people as expressed in the preceding election. The radical left would be very lucky to secure 5 per cent. On its current performance it would get less than 2 per cent.
And by then it will be too late anyway. Membership of the EU, Nato and the sterling area will be negotiated, according to the SNP, in the 15 months before the constitutional convention. And on the issue of the EU, the most fundamental one, the RIC is itself deeply divided.
But there is a second, probably more important reason for Left support. This is the conduct of the main No campaign.
The Better Together campaign is a coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Tories and is therefore incapable of projecting a perspective that has any appeal to the Left.
Worse still, it is portrayed as issuing threats to sabotage independence — threatening the withdrawal of defence contracts and refusing, even if for technically good economic reasons, Scotland’s membership of the sterling area.
The left voices on the No side are confined to the Work Together campaign, backed by a number of trade unions, and the Red Paper and Socialism First groups, which many on the left of the Labour Party (and Communists) support.
These campaigns have only limited financial resources and are ignored by the mass media. The Sunday Herald, owned by the US multinational Newsquest/Gannet, has already declared for independence. The Murdoch press, which backed the SNP in 2012, could well do so again.
This is why trade unionists and the left across Britain need to wake up to the reality of the situation in Scotland.
There is a serious danger that in a matter of weeks the unity of the British labour movement will be gravely damaged and England and Wales (and by proxy Scotland) condemned to long-term Tory rule.
The Trotskyite left claims that independence will be a blow against imperialism. Unfortunately the reverse is the case. Last year the historic vote against UK-US military action against Syria would have gone the other way without the Scottish MPs.
The Scottish millionaires and hedge-fund managers who feed money to the SNP would not do so if their financial backers in the City of London saw their interests endangered. The SNP’s treble lock of the Sterling area, EU and Nato guarantees that.
What can turn the situation?
Only a reinvigorated campaign from the left for constitutional change that advances social justice. Most critically, it would need to demand economic democracy — enabling working people to begin to exert control over capital.
And, to have credibility in Scotland, these demands would need to have trade union and left backing at British level and embrace the wider issues of progressive constitutional change there.
No less important, the movement needs to face up to the anti-working class reality of the EU. Whether it’s Scotland or Britain, EU membership blocks any advance for economic democracy — a subject always avoided by those taking a pro-independence position.
Most important of all, there is the issue of confidence in the continuing potential of class politics.
It was the united struggles of the 1970s, of the London dockers, of UCS, the Birmingham engineers and the miners that then gave credibility to the demands for progressive constitutional change.
To adapt Connolly, the cause of Scotland and the cause of Labour cannot be dissevered.